President urges Justice to unmask Times author
President Donald Trump declared Friday that the Justice Department should investigate and unmask the author of a bitingly critical New York Times opinion piece purportedly written by a member of an administration “resistance” movement straining to thwart his most dangerous impulses.
Trump cited “national security” as the reason for such an extraordinary probe, and he called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to get it going. He also said he was exploring bringing legal action against the newspaper over publication of the essay two days earlier.
“Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it’s national security,” Trump said. If the person has a high-level security clearance, he said, “I don’t want him in those meetings.”
A White House official later said Trump’s call for a government investigation was an expression of his frustration with the essay, not an order for federal prosecutors to take action.
Though the article was strongly critical of Trump, no classified information appears to have been revealed by the author or leaked to the newspaper, which would be a crucial bar to clear before a leak investigation could be contemplated.
“The department does not confirm or deny investigations,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman.
Trump’s call is the latest test of the independence of his Justice Department, which is supposed to make investigative and charging decisions without political interference from the White House.
It also reflects an expansive view of White House authority that cuts to the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Trump’s lawyers and supporters have argued that as president, he is empowered not only to hire and fire whomever he chooses but that he also can inject himself into law-enforcement matters.
Former FBI Director James Comey has said Trump asked him to go easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, an allegation that Mueller is scrutinizing.
Trump’s call for an investigation came a day after his top lieutenants stepped forward to repudiate the op-ed in a show of support for their incensed boss, who ordered aides to unmask the writer. The denials continued Friday, when U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley published an opinion piece of her own in The Washington Post titled “When I challenge the president, I do it directly. My anonymous colleague should have, too.”